BARNESVILLE - When it comes to fueling vehicles, officials say compressed natural gas is cheaper, cleaner-burning and less hazardous in the event of a spill than more traditional fuels such as gasoline and diesel.
Right now, vehicles powered by CNG must travel to Zanesville, Washington, Pa., or Pittsburgh to fill up. That may be about to change as Belmont County and the entire upper Ohio Valley is sitting on a treasure trove of natural gas that many believe has the potential to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.
Because of that, American Natural Supply is "actively seeking" opportunities to build a CNG fueling station in Belmont County, said its vice president, Kevin Krober.
Krober, whose company operates a CNG fueling station on Pittsburgh's South Side, said the disparity between the price of diesel and CNG is as high as it's been in 40 years. That, coupled with a drastic reduction in the cost to get the gas out of the ground, means a brighter future for CNG as a means of fueling vehicles, he said.
"CNG, for a certain part of the transportation sector, is going to be the champion fuel for the foreseeable future," Krober said.
However, that future may come with some growing pains.
"We've got a lot of growing to do," said Jerrold Hutton of Clean Fuels Ohio, a nonprofit organization that works to promote the use of cleaner, domestic fuels in government, the transportation industry and general public. "Diesel fuel was hard to find in 1985. There's this infrastructure we're trying to build" for CNG, he said.
Count Barnesville's Joe Stenger among the believers in CNG's potential to transform the transportation industry.
Stenger, owner of J.W. Stenger Trucking, already has converted two of his vehicles to CNG, and has received a grant through the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to convert 15 more of his fleet of approximately 50 trucks.
It costs $8,000 to $10,000 to convert a normal passenger vehicle or pickup truck from gasoline to CNG.
For the large trucks he runs, it's more like $28,000 per vehicle.
But he buys 1.2 million gallons of diesel fuel per year and has seen that cost balloon from 25 percent of his expenses to 50 percent since 2000, so he believes the upfront investment in conversion is well worth it in the long run.
"The wells are being drilled here. ... We should be getting it first," Stenger said.
He believes the growth of CNG is about more than increased profit margin for his and other trucking companies, however - it's also a matter of national security as America continues to rely on nations of the Middle East for oil.
"The people in those countries don't care much for us, and we're continuing to buy from them," Stenger said.
Hutton said the United States spends more than $30 billion per month on foreign oil, accounting for more than two-thirds of the country's overall trade deficit.
With their tendency to run long miles and long hours, refuse trucks are among the fastest converts to CNG. He also sees an upward trend in CNG use in public transportation.
"In 10 years, all the buses in Columbus will be on natural gas," he predicted.